1.2 mya an ancient human ancestor entered into what is today Europe with a unique mix of modern and primitive traits. This AHA is believed to be among the earliest human ancestors in Europe. We call this species “Homo antecessor” meaning “human pioneer.”
First discovered back in 1997 H. antecessor is much debated when it comes to just how this species is related to modern humans. Some anthropologists believe it to be a transitional species between H. erectus/ergaster and H. heidelbergensis. Others hold the view that this “human pioneer” was the last common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals. This species displays both modern and archaic morphology yet it displays traits not seen in either H. sapiens or the Neanderthals. Still, other anthropologists believe H. antecessor to be a separate species that evolved from H. erectus/ergaster. As if these various theories were not enough yet another one postulates H. antecessor is the same species as H. heidelbergensis which was in Europe about 600 kya to around 250 kya.
What we have in terms of fossil remains for this species are some lower jaw bones and about 14 bone fragments. In 1994 about 80 remains were found from 6 individuals who MAY have belonged to this species. These remains were found in the Atapuerca Mountains in northern Spain near Castile Leon. No complete skull has been found. I must also be noted that MOST of these remains are from CHILDREN! As you well know the bodies of children change as they grow into adults and enter into puberty and it may be that H. antecessor adults did not look like modern humans at all. The best fossil remain we have of this species is a lower jaw bone belonging to a 10 year old juvenile from Spain. This fossil has been dated between 857-780 kya.
H. antecessor may have been a CANNIBAL! Actually, cannibalism is NOT unusual for early human ancestors as much as we’d like to think otherwise. Numerous bits of evidence found at the Atapuerca site show cuts where flesh have been stripped from the bones which is a typical indicator of cannibalism. Further, on the coast near Norfolk in England 800 kya footprints believed to be from this species have also been found.
Some researchers believe H. antecessor may have indeed evolved from H. erectus in Africa around 1.5 mya and migrated into Europe. They also believe that once in Europe this species evolved into H. heidelbergenesis who, in turned, evolved into the Neanderthals. Very complicated! And if this is so then evolution was clearly not only going on in Africa but in EUROPE too! Was it evolution or were these simply different “breeds” of ancient humans who interbred with each other? Continue Reading